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Careers Café

Smarter than SMART goals

Choose goals that are meaningful to you, not others.


If you recently honoured the fine holiday tradition of feeling inadequate, then you’ve probably also been toying with New Year’s resolutions. And if you’ve ever read anything in late December or early January, you’ve likely read more than you’d like to about SMART goals.

According to a meta-analysis of personal goal attainment studies, achieving resolutions isn’t just a matter of setting ones that are “specific, proximal and optimally challenging.” Resolutions that “are not endorsed by the self are likely to generate intrapersonal conflict, whereas self-concordant goals allow individuals to draw on volitional resources such as the capacity to exert sustained effort.” That’s right – a whole cluster of studies wants you to trade in other people’s goals for you (including those of that mistiest of figures – “them”).

Instead, choose what’s meaningful to you (keeping in mind that, depending on your situation, what’s most meaningful might focus on putting food on the table, while carving out small bits of time to consider what’s next).

With that in mind, what big resolution would you love to achieve? What career step would you be incredibly proud of yourself for taking? This isn’t a result, but something you can do.

And since it’s easier to start small, what’s something you’ll do in January that will nudge you in the right direction?

Finally, since life creates unexpected barriers and opportunities, what’s one other career you’d consider, if you couldn’t stay on your current path? If you can name an option, what can you find out about it? If you can’t name one, what step will you take to figuring out what else is out there?

I wish you and yours a happy and peaceful 2017.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. LIsa ter Woort / January 19, 2017 at 12:20

    Awesome Liz! Love to see these articles. Will look for them in 2017 – if that is one of your goals!

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